Neuropathic Pain

We often think that pain has a physical cause. If we get rid of the cause, the pain should go away. However, nerves themselves can also cause pain. This pain often does not go away easily. It is called neuropathic pain, which means nerve abnormality. It may be difficult to understand for the patients who have it and for the treating caregivers.

Neuropathic pain may be caused by an injury or failure of the nervous system. The pain often results from an injury, but this injury may or may not be the cause of actual damage to the nervous system. Nerves can be penetrated or squashed by tumors, strangled by scar tissue, or become inflamed due to infection. Neuropathic pain is often caused by nerve injury due to diabetes. Alcohol abuse may also lead to neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain often seems to have no cause. The diagnosis is made when no other cause is found.

Pain may persist for months or years following the healing of damaged tissues. When this happens, pain signals no longer sound an alarm about current injuries or injuries about to happen. Instead, the alarm system itself is not working correctly.

CHARACTERISTICS OF NEUROPATHIC PAIN

  • Severe, sharp, electric shock-like, shooting, lightening-like, knife-like.

  • Pins and needles sensation.

  • Deep burning, deep cold, or deep ache.

  • Persistent numbness, tingling, or weakness.

  • Pain resulting from a light touch or other stimulus that would not usually cause pain.

  • Increased sensitivity to something that would normally cause pain, such as a pinprick.

Neuropathic pain may get worse instead of better over time. For some people, it can lead to serious disability. It is important to be aware that severe injury in a limb can occur without a proper, protective pain response. Burns, cuts, and other injuries may go unnoticed. Without proper treatment, these injuries can become infected or lead to further disability. Take any injury seriously, and consult your caregiver for treatment.

TREATMENT

Neuropathic pain is often long-lasting and tends not to get better when treated with opioids (narcotic types of pain medicine). It may respond well to other drugs such as antiseizure and antidepressant medicines. Usually, neuropathic pain does not completely go away, but partial improvement is often possible with proper treatment. Your caregivers, along with you, will select the medicines which best allow you to live a normal life. Do not be discouraged if you do not get immediate relief. Sometimes different medicines or a combination of medicines will be tried before you receive the benefits you are hoping for.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • There is a sudden change in the quality of your pain, especially if the change is on only one side of the body.

  • You notice changes of the skin, such as redness, black or purple discoloration, swelling, or an ulcer.

  • You cannot move the affected limbs.